|Rift Server Status Page, 9:15 PM EST, March 2nd 2011|
Chris has a post up on Rift Watchers comparing the game's queues, and addition of servers, to other game launches. I was present for the launches of WoW and Warhammer, and can attest to the fact that they did indeed feature queues. Blizzard, Mythic, and Trion all chose to launch with conservative numbers of servers and plans to expand rapidly if demand called for it. The jury remains out on Rift, but I maintain that this tactic is a mistake.
The problem is that players who plan to show up in these games with their guilds are going to pick their server from the list that's available the night before launch, not the expanded list that's available after the queues hit. The players who are able to change their server plans when they see a launch day queue are probably showing up on their own.
This means that the game's most dedicated players are going to end up stuck on a server with queues that may not get any better anytime soon. Back in 2004, my guild opted to remain on one of the original 40 WoW servers, and we paid for that call many times over with multi-hour queues that persisted on and off for around three years.
Meanwhile, the servers that are added later fill up with players who have no social ties, making them more likely to change servers again or even leave the game outright (as Mythic discovered with Warhammer). Either way, I'd argue that having to double the number of servers after the fact is far more damaging than launching with a few servers too many.
The one launch that seems to have gotten this question right is LOTRO. The game had eleven servers during its open beta/headstart period, and it did not add or remove a single server until the free to play relaunch in 2010 (which added three new servers to the mix). I was horrified when Turbine announced that they were not adding any new servers for the official retail launch, but they had gotten very reliable pre-order numbers and were able to make the correct call.
(The way the LOTRO headstart worked was that you could keep your characters from open beta, but ONLY if you pre-ordered by launch day. By contrast, Trion's open beta was wiped before the headstart, so I'm guessing that players opted to wait for the final servers to arrive before submitting their pre-orders.)